Andy Hollifield 6-11-18
Mark 2:12 “…insomuch that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.”
Did you realize that the word “amaze” is not found in the bible. Neither is the word “amazing”. The word “amazed” is found 21 times. Twelve of those times were pertaining directly to Jesus and the work that he did. Exceedingly, greatly, all, were, and sore are the most common words that appear immediately prior to the word “amazed.” The phrase, “They were all amazed” appears eight times in the four gospels. I am writing about it for a far different reason than what I have found in the bible. I am writing from the point of view of what I have lived and seen myself.
Thirty-two years ago on this night, I announced my calling to preach. I had been wrestling for a couple of months at least with it. I wasn’t as tough as some men I guess because I couldn’t take it that long before I had to submit and surrender myself to God’s will. This may be more of a testimony than anything else. I hope it will encourage someone but most of all, I hope when I am finished writing that God will have been uplifted to everyone reading. As I think back over those years, there are a lot of things that God has done in my life or let me see since he put me into the ministry. I stand amazed at how far he has brought me from where I started. I’m not saying that at all in a boastful way because all of this time has passed and I still have not learned how to preach. All I know to do is pray and study and ask God what he would have me to preach from one time to the next. I am not eloquent or polished and refined. I still know who I am. I am the same scared to death, bumbling, incapable, reluctant, feller that God called way back then. The biggest difference is that I am older now and less reluctant and hopefully less bumbling but still scared to death each time I stand.
I have to tell you that I kind of surrendered in my grandma’s front yard between a chestnut tree and some kind of bush. It was on Tuesday night June 10th at about 9 PM. I had went as far as I could go. One of the longest day’s of my life was the next day. I wish I could have rolled out of bed and went straight to church because I wanted to get that part of the fear behind me. That night there was a preacher that filled in and I couldn’t tell you one word he said. All I know was that I got scared to death when he sat down without giving an altar call. Our chairman of the deacon board, Roy Phillips got up to dismiss the service. I knew that I was going to have to get to the altar regardless because I couldn’t have made it until Sunday morning. Just as Roy was fixing to pray he paused and said something to the effect of, “Before we go, if there is anyone that needs to come to the altar before we dismiss, just come on now.” You can bet your life that he didn’t have to extend it any because I didn’t waste any time getting there. He told me years later that was the first and only time he ever gave an altar call but that night he felt like he should. To my shame, I tried one more time to talk God out of it and even gave him three recommendations of men that I was sure would do far better than me. God said that if he wanted them he would call them but right then he said he was calling me. He gave me grace to stand that night and tell the church that God had called me to preach. To my surprise, no one else was surprised. I found out that my mom had wondered from the time I was about 14 if the Lord was going to call me. She never said anything about that until after that night. Cameron Chambers told me that night that if I ever just had to preach and didn’t have an appointment, there were a lot of stumps in his pasture and I could pick one out and preach to his cattle. That was the first invite I had but I haven’t had to take him up on it yet.
I spent the first five years of my ministry as a single preacher. Being 21 years old and a preacher is not easy when you are single. But God blessed and I just about wore out a vehicle during that time but it has been worth every mile. I have got to dine at the table of some of the finest cooks that ever put on an apron. I still remember how Mrs. Foster at Coffee Ridge Baptist would invite me for dinner after church every time I was there. I spent the afternoon with some of the other church folk when I had to go back to preach that night. Bruce West, Gene Edwards, Big Carl Robinson, and Gary Fender gave me a lot of opportunities to practice and I still appreciate the confidence they had in me. After having pastored, I realize how serious a thing it is to trust someone to feed your flock.
A couple of weeks before I got married, Gary Fender called and asked me to come to Ridgeview Baptist for Youth Sunday the week before I got married. He told me they were having a meal after church and he wanted me to stay and eat. Much to my surprise, I found out that it was a meal to honor me and Diane. They also gave us a pounding that filled my Bronco 2 up to the windows with the seats laid down. Each of the Sunday School classes had either gotten us a gift or gave us a card and money. I will always cherish that day and considering some things that had taken place the night before, it was an extra special blessing.
I know that I can’t cover thirty-two years in just a couple of pages, but there have been some other things that I want to mention. God has not only put people in my life but he has also made his presence known more times than I could possibly remember or count. One of those times was when we lost our first child to a miscarriage. We found out on Friday and I was scheduled to preach Youth Sunday at Cedar Hill in Alexander. Diane asked if I was going to cancel and I told her no that I hadn’t ever cancelled an appointment. I can’t remember the scripture but I remember the message subject. The Lord had me to preach on what I needed most at that moment more than ever before: Grace. He gave me grace while I was preaching on it and I have never forgotten what that time wrapped up in his arms while I was preaching felt like.
There was a time a few years later when Tyler was a baby that he was bad sick. We took him to an Urgent Care and they told us to go straight to Mission Hospital and not to stop anywhere and doctors would meet us at the door of the ER. When I asked what was wrong with him, they said he was showing all of the signs of meningitis. That was on a Saturday morning. That evening about 5 o’clock, I walked out of the ER and looked at the setting sun over Biltmore and asked God not to take my baby but if that was how it had to be just to give us grace. Having already lost one and thinking I was going to lose another one that was conceived just in time to keep Diane from having a nervous breakdown; that was a hard prayer to pray. It is a scary thing sometimes to pray for God’s will to be done. On Tuesday of the following week Tyler was discharged with a clean bill of health. When I asked what had been wrong, I was told that they believed he had an allergic reaction to some medicine that he had taken for 10 days but had been off of for two weeks. My version of what I believe happened is this: I believe when we left the urgent care at the corner of Leicester Highway and Patton, he had meningitis. Somewhere between then and Tuesday morning the great physician came by and did what the doctors couldn’t do. I will believe that until God tells me different.
We have survived through the days right after bringing Tyler home and him stopping breathing and being on a heart monitor that could wake the dead. We lived through the diagnosis of Autism and survived putting a non-verbal child on the school bus for the first time. God even gave us grace to insist that he repeat Kindergarten. There have been five surgeries getting tubes in his ears and one surgery getting his tonsils out. One scare of him not waking up from anesthesia after an MRI and being hospitalized. We’ve had times, just like everyone else, when sickness and death have invaded our family. Times in the ministry where the only thing that restrained me and kept my sanity was God’s grace. There has been hurt and joy and some things that I still can’t understand. I have withstood the loss of my career due to things beyond my control but also not suffered loss of anything when it looked like I was going to lose everything. Be careful when you tell God you would like to be in full-time ministry. You may not be comfortable with how he brings it to pass but I still wouldn’t change a thing on his part.
Now Tyler is grown although he will never live independently, and God has let him grow up doing mission work. He did it first in Kentucky and West Virginia while he was riding in a truck in his car seat and since then all of the years he has helped with H.O.P.E. Ministries. I am not in any way complaining but I am just trying to let you know that we have had to have a lot of grace it seems like but we have never seen the time when his grace wasn’t sufficient. Never have we seen the time that we had a need that God’s grace didn’t supply. Never have we had a storm that he didn’t see us through. Never have we encountered sin abounding that grace didn’t much more abound. Never have we had a time when God didn’t have time for us or have grace enough to meet our need. Thirty-two years in the ministry has left me battered, bruised, and blessed and praying that I can have another thirty-two years and more if he tarries his coming. After all this time and all that he has brought us through, I never would have thought I would see it “on this fashion,” and I still stand amazed. Have a blessed day in the Lord!!!